Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2003
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 1A

Introduction to Philosophy

Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber

President Clinton Takes the Stand

So What's the Truth??

Adapted from Manuel Velasquez,
Philosophy: A Text with Readings
Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California, 1997.

BAILIFF: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?


DERSHOWITZ: Objection, Your Honor.

JUDGE JUDY: But the witness has not even taken his seat.

DERSHOWITZ: Defense objects, Your Honor, on grounds that the witness has perjured himself.

JUDGE JUDY: Perjured himself? Why, he hasn't even answered a question yet.

DERSHOWITZ: Defense humbly begs to differ, Your Honor. The witness has sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Defense contends that the witness, President Clinton, is in no position to meet that oath, since he knows nothing of the truth of which he speaks.

JUDGE JUDY: Knows nothing of . . .

DERSHOWITZ: To put it simply, Your Honor, Bill Clinton doesn't know the truth from a hole in the ground.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Oh, yeah? You want to step outside and say that?

JUDGE JUDY: The witness will contain himself. Can Defense prove this contention?

DERSHOWITZ: Defense can and will, Your Honor.

JUDGE JUDY: Then proceed.

DERSHOWITZ: Thank you, Your Honor. Now, Mr. Clinton, you have just sworn a holy oath before God Almighty to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Is that correct?


DERSHOWITZ: Presumably, you have sworn this oath knowing full well what it means.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes, I have. It means I'm going to tell the truth.

DERSHOWITZ: The whole truth and nothing but the truth.


DERSHOWITZ: Now, Bill, - may I call you "Bill?" - what in your opinion is the truth?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: The truth? The truth is the way things are.

DERSHOWITZ: The way things are. All right, "The American Flag" -is that the truth?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: What about the American flag?

DERSHOWITZ: Oh, I must say something about it?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, sure. How else would you know if you got the truth or not?

DERSHOWITZ: I see. So what you're really saying is that the truth refers not so much to the way things are as it does to a statement about the way things are. In other words, it would be silly to say "American flag" is true. But it would make perfect sense to say "There's a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom."

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Now you've got the truth, buster.

DERSHOWITZ: You mean that statement is true?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: You bet your life it is.

DERSHOWITZ: And tell the court, Bill, - can I call you "Bill?" - how you know the statement "There is a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom" is true.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Because I see that flag right over there.

DERSHOWITZ: Because you see it. Tell me, Bill, does everything you see lead you to make a true statement?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't get you.

DERSHOWITZ: Let me illustrate. You've no doubt seen a pencil resting in a glass of water.


DERSHOWITZ: How would you describe such a pencil?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: You mean that it looks bent?

DERSHOWITZ: It looks bent. Your eyes report it as bent.


DERSHOWITZ: No, it's not. Consequently, the statement "That pencil is bent" is not true, is it?


DERSHOWITZ: And yet your eyes report it as true, don't they?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: But it's different here with the flag. The flag is actually here, the way you said it was. The pencil isn't. That's the difference.

DERSHOWITZ: The flag is actually here, the way I said it was. Your Honor, the Defense wishes to call from the gallery for one question only a Mr. Charles.

KENNETH STARR: I object, Your Honor. Counsel's line of questioning has no purpose except to rattle, confuse, and intimidate the witness.

JUDGE JUDY The irregularity of his request forces me to warn Defense that for his and his client's sake, the Bench hopes all this has some constructive end.

DERSHOWITZ: I assure the Bench it has.

JUDGE JUDY Will Mr. Charles please rise?

DERSHOWITZ: Mr. Charles, will you please tell the court whether the following statement is true: "There is a red, white, and blue American flag in this room"?

MR. CHARLES: 1 don't know.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: What! He must be blind!

DERSHOWITZ: I compliment you on your powers of deduction, Bill. Mr. Charles, Mr. Ray Charles, is, in fact, blind.

JUDGE JUDY: What's the meaning of this demonstration, Mr. Dershowitz?

DERSHOWITZ: Your Honor, the purpose of this exercise is to show the court that what the witness, President Clinton, thinks is truth is in fact nothing but hearsay. Indeed, what the witness thinks is truth consigns truth to the very dubious area of shared understandings. Such shared understandings must be purely subjective and need not have anything to do with the way things actually are. There is no one truth and there is no such thing as "the whole truth." There are many "truths" depending on your point of view. And each "truth" is equally valid.

KENNETH STARR: Your Honor, I have sat here patiently while the Defense has made a mockery of this court. I submit that he has gone beyond the role of court-jester and is now showing open contempt for the Bench itself!

DERSHOWITZ: If the court will allow, the Defense would like to call from the gallery Mr. Bart Peabody in order to prove the sincerity of Defense's cause.

JUDGE JUDY: With great reluctance, the Bench asks Mr. Bart Peabody to rise. DERSHOWITZ: Thank you, Your Honor. Mr. Peabody, will you tell the court whether the following statement is true: "There is a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom"?

PEABODY: Well, if you want to know the truth, what you say is so and it isn't.

DERSHOWITZ: Would you explain to the court why my statement is true and not true?

PEABODY: First, you do have a flag, all right. Any fool can see that.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: There! What did I tell you?

JUDGE JUDY The witness will restrain himself.

PEABODY: But it's not a red, white, and blue flag. It's red, white, and green.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Green! He must be color-blind!

DERSHOWITZ: Must be? Why? Because he disagrees with you?

KENNETH STARR: Your Honor, how long will the Bench allow this travesty to continue?

DERSHOWITZ: On the contrary, Your Honor, the court is hardly witnessing a travesty. Rather, in a matter of minutes, the court has heard three persons report different "truths" while supposedly observing the same object at the same time. Yet the witness, President Clinton, would have us believe that the truth characterizes that statement which reports an actual fact. I respectfully submit, Your Honor, that we can never know how things really are, because the only way we can come to such knowledge is through different perspectives, which I have just demonstrated to be unreliable insofar as we wish to establish the truth and this holds true of each and every fact, including the facts before this court, that is, we shall never be able to know the truth whether President Clinton had a sexual liason with Monica Lewinsky or whether he lied about it under oath or whether he encouraged anyone else to lie about it or whether he obstructed justice. And therefore I move that this case be dismissed..

JUDGE JUDY: Is Defense suggesting that in this case the testimonies of a blind and a color-blind person are equal to that of a normally sighted person?

DERSHOWITZ: Your Honor, may I respectfully answer with another question? Just what constitutes normal sight? Is it not a convention, a standard that the majority sets? Would the court submit the question of truth to a head count?

JUDGE JUDY: On the question of whether there is in fact a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom, the court might seriously entertain such a proposal.

DERSHOWITZ: So be it, Your Honor. I submit the question to the gallery. Let a show of hands determine the truth of the statement "There is a red, white, and blue American flag in this courtroom."

JUDGE JUDY: Nobody? Not a single hand?

KENNETH STARR: I object, Your Honor! The Defense has obviously stacked the gallery as a card shark would a deck of playing cards.

DERSHOWITZ: The Prosecution's powers of deduction are as astonishing as President Clinton's, Your Honor. True, the defense has stacked the gallery, but only to demonstrate that when we insist that truth is an agreement between a statement of fact and the fact itself, we play the game of life with a stacked deck

JUDGE JUDY (Swinging her gavel ): CASE DISMISSED!


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